Stay calm. Take a deep breath.
After attending Milan Fashion Week, having conversations with many industry professionals, fashion is at a major crossroads, with many questions, few answers. Attending events, drinking a glass of sparkling wine, I looked around, buyers, editors, influencers, designers, press people all in attendance, MWAH, MWAH, on the cheeks. For some reason it felt like the deck of the Titanic but there was no DiCaprioaround to save any of us. The fashion world is going through a massive shift that none understand.
The retail sector is sinking. The temples of 20thcentury mass consumptions, department stores, have become brick and mortar dinosaurs in the online era. In the UK, Debenhams, House of Fraser have closed stores after loosing millions. High street stable John C, Lewis reported a 99% profit drop. On the other side of the Atlantic, US nameplates, Nieman Marcus cannot give it self away after years of seeking buyers. Macy’s performs like an amusement park rollercoaster, one quarterup, the next quarter down. Germany, the economicmachine of the EU, major retailers Karlstadt and Galeria Kaufhaus have merged after years of changing hands. The new Austrian owner has announced store closings. Will he use imagination to rejuvenate the ailing retailers or just lay-off his way to profitability? If it is the latter, one word: SEARS.
What happened to fashion magazines? There was a time when they dictated taste. The stuff dreams are made of filled on their glossy paper: gorgeous models with perfect make up wearing couture, shot by top photographers in exotic locations. Who did not want to live this life? The unwritten law in fashion was labels bought ads from publications, magazines heaped coverage. An app founded in 2010 has called this relationship into question.
Fashion labels are no longer willing partners. As Instagram has risen, the power of titles like Vogue, Elle, and Harpers Bazaar have waned. Now, titles influence, HA! Not dictate. When once publications were at the top of the heap, they now have to share the mountain top with millions of influencers. Why pay a lot, when you can pay nothing? Buying an ad, paying for a polished production costing thousands was the business model,,, until Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger came up with an app.
Today, fashion labels are employing legions of millennial influencers to show off their looks: a smartphone camera, followers, and the need for fast fame over took the industry. In the Social Media Age of rapid visual consumption,monthlyis too late to the party, secondscount. Instagram has 191 million daily users. The #fashion is one of the top trending topics. A digital platform has given millions with no fashion knowledge, influence.
Publications with their layers of editors, writers, photographers, are the ancient out of step gatekeepers. Brands give away bags, shoes, and front row seats at fashion shows to influencers in order to reach consumers in the digital world. In my private conversations with brand media representatives, some have commented they are cutting back or eliminating buying print ads. The classic fashion channels are collapsing. Major publishing houses Conde Nast and Hearst are in a perfect storm. Staff has been reduced, titles closed. Clutch the Chanel Bag! The worst may not be over.
Fashion labels are embracing streetwear as the new “BLACK” to stay on top of the latest trend. As rap stars have become cultural icons, brands are keen to cash in on the style craze. The problem: Be carefulwhat you wish for. Urban culture comes from the bottom up. Fashion has been an elitist affair dictating desire to the masses for decades. The industry is trying to flip the script. Embracing a demographic that was until recently frozen out is not easy. The awkwardnessof the situation is like Angela Merkel and Beyonce singing a B-side duet.
The Chunky Sneaker craze has infected every designer label. Plaster a designer name on an oversize trainer, sell a pair for 600 euros, instant relevance. If it sounds short sighted with a tinge of cynicism, it is easy to see why.
I am optimistic. Crisis means changes will come sooner or later. Fashion is a creative business that creates. No crisis can take that away. What will the conversations be in 2019 while sipping sparking wine? As long as I smile at the waiter pouring the bubbly, I will be ok.